Sneak peek: New biography of biotech pioneer Leroy Hood is revealing and rigorously reported

“Mr. Gates, I Quit.”

(Photo by Brian Smale, cover design by Todd Bennings.)

That’s the opening chapter of “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age,” and it’s just the first indication that this is no run-of-the-mill biography.

In documenting the life and scientific contributions of biotech star Leroy “Lee” Hood, journalist Luke Timmerman uses interviews, public records, previously confidential documents and his years of experience on the beat to deliver a revealing story that should resonate beyond the biotech world.

Hood is known for leading the Caltech team that developed the first automated DNA sequencer. Their work unlocked a new era for scientists in the quest to understand the fundamental building blocks of human life. A $12 million grant from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates brought Hood to the University of Washington in Seattle to build a research department seeking breakthroughs in computer science, biology and medicine.

But eight years later, Hood split with the UW to launch his own Institute for Systems Biology. Timmerman’s inside look at that decision, and the rift it created between Hood and Gates, exemplifies the book’s willingness to explore not just Hood’s genius but also his personal flaws and struggles.

As Timmerman explains in the epilogue, “To his admirers, Hood is one of the greatest visionaries for biology in history. They always use that word: visionary. But Hood’s career wasn’t all about grand notions of the future. It was firmly rooted from the start in meticulous, painstaking research in immunology. … The research, spread over two decades, forced scientists to rethink basic assumptions about evolution and genetics. That hard-won knowledge of the immune system is integral to today’s greater understanding of infectious diseases and cancer.”

Journalist and author Luke Timmerman. (Photo: Meryl Schenker.)

Timmerman adds, “To his critics, Hood’s accomplishments weren’t what he made them out to be. And the turmoil he left in his wake was sometimes self-defeating. Like tech visionary Steve Jobs, Hood attracted critics who saw him as a narcissist, a self-promoter, a reckless manager, and a callous, self-centered jerk. The critics see a man, in his later years, prone to hype and sloganeering. His science is no longer first-rate, they say.”

“There is truth in both interpretations,” the author concludes.

Hood, whose Institute for Systems Biology joined Providence Health & Services earlier this year, set in motion a series of inventions that have revolutionized our understanding of ourselves. At 77 years old, Hood is still going strong, aiming to pioneer a new era of “scientific wellness” with his Seattle-based startup Arivale. And scientists around the world are continuing to use and build upon the approaches pioneered by his teams.

In that way, Timmerman’s new biography of Hood is not just a historical record but a foundation for understanding breakthroughs still to come.

“Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age” is available for $19.95 as a PDF download via Timmerman Report. Readers can also place a pre-order for a signed hard copy, or buy the Kindle eBook edition. An excerpt is available at Undark.com.